Samit Basu, The City Inside, tordotcom, 2022.
The City Inside is a near-future dystopia set in Delhi, very much inspired by Indian politics and with a thoughtful take on action when faced by fascism.
Joey manages the career of Indi, a rising star of the ubiquitous Flow, a video social media. Born in a family of liberal upper middle class parents, she doesn't protest the violence and inequalities she witnesses, focusing instead on her career. One day, she offers a job to the Rudra, the son of family friends. But things are changing and Indi's career, and by extension Joey's, are threatened.
CW: references to abusive relationships.
When you're not Indian but keep an eye on India politics, it's striking how much The City Inside is a topical novel. Basu captures with the art of a photographer the unequal and violent society that India can be for some and the descent into a harsher and even more unequal society.
All of this is sustained by the technology in The City Inside. Joey's world is very much a 21st century world. CCTV is everywhere, people make a tremendous amount of money thanks to Flows (a kind of mix between YT and TikTok) and document every aspect of their lives online.
Being a Flow star is a legitimate career path and through Joey we meet the arrogant, or insecure, or driven, or misguided people attempting to become icons and the numerous schemes and machinations to manipulate their careers in the offing.
Nonetheless, The City Inside isn't a story about tech but about action in the face of fascism. It is Joey's hesitations that we witness, and Rudra's slow decisions about his path that make the bulk of the story.
Joey is an endearing character and Basu has depicted her in a very convincing way from the opening. Rudra is more complex, at times very naive but also very conscious of the reality of the world he lives in. Whereas Joey knows her place in the world despite not being sure she's in the right place, Rudra still has to understand his own.
The City Inside has an amazing gallery of characters, from the Flow stars to Joey's family helper. This near-future Delhi really comes alive thanks to them.
I regretted that, like many dystopian novels with a strong political aspect, Basu takes us here and there to showcase the consequences of this political aspect. The plot often fades in the background and I felt the pace suffers from it from time to time. Nonetheless, this near-future Delhi was fascinating to explore.
The City Inside is a must read for everyone interested in adult dystopias as it captures remarkably a current moment and spins a realistic near-future story from here.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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